Originally, the Temple was called East Gokurakuji belonging to the Shingon
sect. Founding Priest Gyo-yu Taiko (1163-1241) was a disciple of Priest Eisai
Myo-an (1141-1215), who first introduced Zen Buddhism to Kamakura and was named
the founding priest of Jufukuji. Priest Taiko also founded another Zen temple
At the time of the Temple's founding, however, Zen Buddhism was not yet firmly credited. Yoshikane Ashikaga (1154-1199), the founder, shared the same great-grandfather with Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199), the founder of the Kamakura Shogunate, and was a brave samurai helping Yoritomo defeat the Taira clan. As a matter of fact, Yoshikane's wife was younger sister of Masako Hojo (1157-1225), Yoritomo's wife.
When another priest Ryonen Geppo was nominated to be the chief priest, the
Temple chose the denomination of Zen Buddhism around 1258 under the sponsorship
of Sadauji Ashikaga (1273-1331), father of Takauji Ashikaga, who established the
Ashikaga Shogunate. At the same time, the Temple changed its name to the present
'Jomyoji' deriving from Sadauji's Buddhist title.
Priest Geppo was ordained by Priest Doryu Rankei, the founding priest of Kenchoji. Sadauji helped expand the Temple and produced a number of great priests. At its peak, the Temple had as many as 23 sub-temples. Throughout the Muromachi Period (1336-1573), it was protected and patronized by the Ashikaga family as their prayer hall, and ranked fifth of the Five Great Zen Temples in Kamakura. With the Kamakura Governor's office and residences located at the east side of the Temple, however, the area sometimes turned battleground because of the power struggles involving governors, vice-governors in Kamakura and the Shogun in Kyoto. Every time the battles erupted, structures around here were burnt down or ruined.
In addition, a series of fires ravaged the Temple after the Muromachi Period and it continued to dwindle with no specific supporters. Today, the grounds of the Temple are a 'Historic spot' designated by the national government.
This is the only Temple among the Great Five Zen Temples that does not have direct connections with the Hojo family. Like Hokokuji across the street, the Temple is closely associated with the Ashikagas and its well-known crest (two horizontal bars in a circle) appears on the offertory box placed before the entrance of the main hall.
The hall was rebuilt in 1756. The main object of worship is a sedentary statue of Shaka Nyorai (Sakyamuni in Sanskrit). It was made in the 14th century by unknown sculptor(s). Unfortunately, inside the hall is too dark to make out the statues.
Also enshrined in the hall are the following:
A statue of Priest Taiko. This life-size statue was made in the late
Kamakura Period (1185-1333). Realistic carving, particularly wrinkled face, is
an evidence that he was a great priest undergoing enough training. The statue
is valuable from the technical and artistic viewpoint as well.
A statue of Sho Kan'non, or Arya-avalokitesvara in Skt. It
ranks ninth of the Thirty-Three Kamakura Kan'non Pilgrimage.
A 111-centimeter-tall statue of Sanbo Kojin Made in the
Muromachi Period. In Buddhist term, sanbo means three elements, namely
the Lord Buddha, the Laws and the Priesthood. Sanbo kojin
is, meanwhile, the guardian deity of kitchen, or ovens to be exact, in Japan,
and a god of eclectic mix among Buddhism, Taoism and Japanese folkloric
religion. It is believed that ashes from the kitchen oven, if rubbed on the
foreheads of new born babies, would bring good health to them (a similar
custom to Roman Catholics receiving a mark of ashes on the forehead on Ash
Wednesday). The statue has three heads and six arms, each with a pugnacious
expression to dispel evil spirits in the kitchen. Since he dislikes
uncleanness, kitchens of old Japanese houses are always kept clean.
A statue of Kamatari Fujiwara (614-669) in full court dress. He was a capable politician during the Asuka Period (593-710), and the originator of the Fujiwara family. Made in the Edo Period (1603-1868)
A 34.1-centimeter-tall statue of Awashima Myojin
Made in the Edo Period. As the word Myojin shows, it is a Shinto deity and this particular one is believed to bring an easy childbirth for the pregnant women, and cure gynecological diseases. It is a sub-shrine of Awashima Jinja in Wakayama Prefecture, the mother shrine of Awashima Myojin, which enshrines the legendary empress Jingu.
A statue of Garanjin made in 1731. Garanjin is an offshoot deity of Taoism and often enshrined at Zen temples.
A statue of Priest Daruma (?-528), or Bodhidharma in Skt., made in 1731. Daruma looks like a basket case. He was a Chinese priest and became limbless after a lengthy period of meditation and ascetic practices. As the pioneer of Zen Buddhism, he is highly respected by Zen priests.
The Temple also owns a wooden statue of Amida (Amitabha in Skt.)
Nyorai made during the 14th century. It is kept at the Kamakura Museum.
Hokyo-into for Sadauji Ashikaga
Sadauji was buried here and his tomb, a Hokyo-into, stands in the center of the graveyard behind the main hall. Inscription tells it was made in 1392, nearly sixty years after his death.
On the left-hand side of the main hall is a beautiful garden and a guest room called Kisen-an. The original Kisen-an was built around 1580 by the Temples' priests to have tea ceremonies.
The sand and rock garden is called Karesansui in Japanese and it well fits Zen temples.
Notes: The Temple has a well-maintained flower garden, in which peony blooms beautifully in late April through early May.